The holidays are upon us. Again. And as you and I well know, there's something else in the air besides the joyful magic of Yuletide cheer and the tittering laughter of children: obligation. Whether you're giving to your employees, your great aunt, or your dog sitter, here are some items you'll definitely want to avoid as you play secret (or not-so-secret) Santa:

  1. Bath and body products. Nothing says "we're not close" quite like forsythia shower gel and matching moisturizer.
  2. Anything that implies something negative about someone's personal appearance. Makeup or shaving kits, fragrances, memberships to Jenny Craig. Family-sized packages of Altoids. Just don't.
  3. DVDs or Blu-Ray discs. It feels strange to say, but it's antiquated technology now. Watching a DVD is more trouble than it's worth, even when you factor in special features.
  4. Stuffed animals. Not even if there's a kid on your shopping list. Seriously.
  5. Scented candles. What exactly does "desperation" smell like? Answer: whatever Yankee Candle you just bought someone.
  6. Anything with "#1 <anything>" on it. Nobody's really #1, and "#4053201 Boss" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
  7. Anything that makes noise. Please rethink that card that plays Alvin and the Chipmunks singing "Christmas Don't Be Late." Don't even consider that warbling toy you were about to buy your friend's kid (unless you secretly hate your friend). Step slowly away from the motion-sensing dog wearing reindeer antlers that barks Jingle Bells when somebody gets too close. I'm begging you.
  8. Chocolate samplers. Nobody wants to play chocolate roulette every time they put a piece in their mouth. I always get whichever filling I dislike the most and spend the next five seconds hating my life and the person who gave me chocolate. Don't be the person who makes their valued employees eat the gross raspberry one.
  9. A blank journal. It will immediately be filed in the blank journal section of your recipient's personal library.
  10. Fruitcake. It's the thought that counts, but in this case the thought should be "nobody really likes fruitcake."

Fortunately, there is one gift that is always appropriate for everyone: an Amazon gift card. This says that you want the person to have exactly what they want. If you think gift cards are too impersonal, don't worry; there is actually nothing more personal than sending someone the message that you didn't want to screw up their gift. You can package it  as cleverly as you like.

Happy gifting and happy holidays!